by Steve Horn
Liz Wahl’s on-air resignation as a Russia Today news anchor came amid a perfect geopolitical storm. She announced her departure from RT just as tensions escalated between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.
“I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin,” said the 28-year-old American reporter and show host, who worked at RT America for two-and-a-half years. “I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.”
Wahl’s camera-ready goodbye quickly went viral on the web, and made her a U.S. mainstream-media darling. Most commentators saw the Wahl resignation as a casebook study in how government-sponsored journalism inevitably degenerates into rank propaganda. Yet few have examined what this incident reveals about the mind-set of America’s corporate-owned media.
Wahl did her first interview with The Daily Beast within hours of her live announcement and soon thereafter appeared on Fox News, CNN (three times), MSNBC, ABC's "The View," and on "The Colbert Report." Numerous print media outlets helped tell her version of the story, and she was given space to explain herself in Politico Magazine as well.
Not Taking It Any More
Wahl's Howard-Beale-like moment came just one day after her colleague Abby Martin, host of RT America’s "Breaking the Set," committed her own on-air indiscretion. Martin denounced Russia's military occupation of the Crimean peninsula, which had been part of neighboring Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991
Unlike Wahl, however, Martin didn't quit the network; she is still hosting her daily 30-minute show. Martin’s decision to stay at RF drew criticism from the same reporter who landed the first interview with Wahl after her resignation, The Daily Beast's Jamie Kirchick.
"Indeed, far from damaging the propaganda efforts of the Russian government, Martin’s momentary act of nonconformity plays right into the Kremlin’s hands," Kirchick wrote in a March 4 article in Tablet Magazine. "RT will now be able to hold up her 60-second departure from the official script as evidence of its editorial independence."
While the U.S. mainstream media was initially fascinated by the live on-air outbursts of both women, Martin fell out of favor quickly after she used her first major interview on CNN to denounce that news network.
"I think the real question that should be asked is, 'Why do I have to work for RT to tell the truth about corporations and the U.S. government?'" Martin questioned on CNN’s "Piers Morgan Show" on March 5. "I mean seriously, you guys are beholden to advertisers that you cannot criticize, and that's why I work for a station [where] I can criticize [them]."
Enthusiasm surrounding Martin’s s on-air deed waned further after a March 4 New York Times article revealed that she has roots in the 9/11 'truth movement,' though she has distanced herself from those views.
The disparity in the public treatment of Wahl and Martin raises some important questions about the state of the media in 21st century America.
Not surprisingly, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan chalked up Wahl’s on-air resignation and subsequent round of interviews as a “self promotional stunt.”
In a blog post, Simonyan declared the result of what Wahl and Martin did a "media war:"
Every single day, every single hour the guys who work for us are told, “You are liars, you are no journalists, you are the Kremlin propaganda mouthpiece, you’ve sold yourselves to the Russians, it’s time you quit your job, and everybody is laughing at you, so change your mind before it’s too late.”
While RT’s status as a Russian government-funded news outlet has always been public knowledge, the political and financial agendas driving some of the other players in this story are equally revealing.
Case in point: The Beasts’ Kirchick—who got the first interview with Wahl and was critical of Martin after she remained at RT—gets his paychecks from the neoconservative Foreign Policy Institute, where he is a Fellow. FPI has been described as a renascent version of the Project for the New American Century, which is in turn is often described as one of the well-connected brain trusts behind the launch of the Iraq War.
A source from inside RT, who spoke to WhoWhatWhy anonymously for fear of retribution, had at one point “observed [Wahl] taking pictures of the office over the summer, asking all sorts of odd questions about my experience, and looking at Jamie Kirchick's website while in the office.”
Read the rest of the story at WhoWhatWhy.